Staying Strong, Sober, and Sane During the Holidays

By Steve Sarin 11/18/20

Delaying recovery until the new year can have devastating consequences. Stress and substance abuse increase during the holidays season and overdose rates climb.

Image: 
Woman drinking coffee from a holiday coffee cup outside in front of Christmas lights
If you’ve started your recovery journey, you’ve acquired some useful tools to help you survive the holidays with your sobriety intact. Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

Thanksgiving is around the corner and marks the official start of the fun, festive and sometimes dreaded holiday season. Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year’s events can be stressful for anyone and especially so for people in recovery. Wine pairings, eggnogs, champagne toasts, and all sorts of colorful cocktails are ever-present at family, work, and social events. ‘Tis the season to drink and be merry. But not for us.

Family and work parties can be stressful and triggering for people in recovery and struggling with addiction. Add exploding COVID-19 cases, and the usual holiday stress expands exponentially. What’s a newly sober person to do?

For people who’ve completed treatment and stay active in a 12-step community, you probably have the tools to resist a glass of wine with the turkey and skip the toast of bubbly on New Year’s Eve. But holiday stress can weaken even the strongest sober foundation. Here are some tips for newcomers (and reminders for old-timers) on how to ensure your recovery remains strong through the rest of 2020 and beyond:

Honesty

If friends or family are unaware of your newly sober status, use this as an opportunity to preempt any awkwardness and let people know you’ve decided to lead a more fulfilling life. If they don’t know about your new recovery journey, they’ll probably hand you a glass of wine or some peppermint flavored cocktail. Send an email or a message on Facebook, and make it known individually rather than tapping your glass for a dramatic speech.

You might not want to tell everyone this year, but if your family is anything like mine, they’re as gossipy as Regina George and her crew of mean girls, and the cat is out of the bag. If you want to maintain some privacy this year, get comfortable saying no to drinks or a newly legal toke.

Honesty is an integral part of sobriety, but you don’t have to overshare. Try a simple: “No, thanks, I have to drive” or “My head hurts, so I’ll pass.” The latter may seem a little dishonest, but after chatting with your aunt about her latest bout with gout, it’s probably not a stretch. 

Remember to have realistic expectations. You’ve probably caused some pain and drama while using, and not everyone may be quick to forgive and forget. Use this as an opportunity to revisit your ninth step and see if you still owe a few amends.

Make a Plan

If you’re concerned family dynamics might trigger a relapse, take some time with your therapist or 12-stepping friends to create a plan. Together, they can help you devise a effective strategy.

If this year’s holiday festivities are held via video chat, it might feel less stressful. Muting relatives is appealing, but it’s essential to prepare for any stressful interactions. Use your tools and confront any lingering resentments you may hold against relatives before connecting to Zoom or heading over. If you’ve completed the fourth step, it may be time to take another look and see if you’ve left out a few people. As you know, the fourth step work is never done. Everyone develops resentments as time passes, regardless of how reflective and self-aware we are.

Quick Tips

  • If you’re heading home to see the family, check the local AA or NA site and have a list of meetings ready to go.
  • Put together a list of five people you can call if you need support or a quick chat.
  • Remember to be of service! Wash the dishes, offer to make the mashed potatoes, or stay a few minutes after a meeting to chat with a newbie.
  • Don’t forget to meditate! It’s easy to neglect that practice when traveling.

Isolation Is Toxic

Virtual holidays present another mental health challenge: isolation. We use the holidays to connect with the people we don’t see every day. It can be annoying and highly stressful, but the need to connect is real. Humans are social creatures, and we crave social activities. Those of us in recovery are quite good at isolating, and that disconnect is toxic. Countless studies show social isolation causes anxiety, depression, anxiety, decreased cardiovascular function, low sleep quality, and cognitive decline in people of all ages.

Loneliness directly affects drug addiction and alcoholism, and studies indicate socially isolated people have more mental health and substance abuse problems than the general population. People often turn to substances to escape when they feel isolated, yet many of us are isolated because drugs and alcohol destroyed our relationships. When you are new to sobriety, it’s imperative to break that cycle. Easier said than done in a global pandemic, but there are things you can do to help you stay sane and sober.

In some cities, there are some in-person 12-step meetings. If you haven’t gone since last winter, consider grabbing a mask and attending a socially distanced meeting. Just remember to look for meetings that require masks and check temperatures at the door.

If you’ve started your recovery journey, you’ve acquired some useful tools to help you survive the holidays with your sobriety intact. Use your new skills and reach out to your therapist and network of sober peers. Your sober and supportive community's collective knowledge is an invaluable resource, so actively seek out their guidance! As you’ve learned in the rooms, no matter our backgrounds, our stories are extraordinarily similar, and the pain we’ve experienced and are responsible for is our common bond.

For those who have not received treatment or joined the rooms, make a plan. Delaying recovery until the new year can have devastating consequences. Stress and substance abuse increase during the holidays season and overdose rates climb. Use the love and support of your friends and family during the holiday season and get started. Your sobriety will be the best gift they’ve ever received.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, call AspenRidge Recovery today to speak with one of our admissions specialists. They’ll help you find the best treatment option for your situation, even if it isn’t with us. You can call us 24/7 at (866) 271-2173, or you can visit https://reachonlinerecovery.com and learn more about our virtual outpatient programs accessible in multiple states.

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